This year, Mental Health Awareness Month overlaps with the Islamic month of Ramadan. The simplest association with Ramadan is fasting: from sunrise to sunset everyday, Muslims who are able to fast do not eat or drink anything (even water).
However, Ramadan is more than just the physical act of fasting. Ramadan is also meant to serve as a time for Muslims to refrain from bad habits and to practice doing things that are more beneficial and productive. It can be a time for Muslims to clear their head and focus on what matters to them.
Islam is the second largest religion in the world with closer to 2 billion people practicing. Ramadan is a different experience for everyone – some aren’t able to fast because of physical reasons, while others may have their own personal struggles with it because of their history with mental health and illness. We wanted to focus on the second part specifically, since there is a strong stigma associated with mental illness in Muslims communities, and even Muslim doctors aren’t sure how to approach administering medication to Muslim patients that require food or water (especially with psychiatric medication).
For example, Ramadan can be a particularly difficult time for those who have struggled with eating disorders, with the potential to trigger. You can read about two young women’s personal stories and experiences with this, one published on Teen Vogue and another on Dazed.
Two other articles talk about the mental health and self-care aspect of Ramadan and how it’s a time for cleansing. You can read these articles on NPR and Allure – the NPR article has several Muslims talk about how Ramadan affects their mental health and well-being, while the Allure article is a more personal story.
Finally, this year can feel particularly harder because of quarantine. Many go to mosques after they open their fasts to pray, or will go outside to other places as a distraction as they are fasting. Being unable to do either can increase feelings of guilt and loneliness, and for some of those fasting, can even be unsafe depending on who they are living with. Check out an i-D article about the topic here.
Do you celebrate Ramadan? Have you ever fasted before? How do you think fasting can help or be difficult for one’s mental health?